The audio version of Stone's Fall is over 25 hours long and I have listened to almost 11 of those hours; I think that's enough to decide that I am not...moreThe audio version of Stone's Fall is over 25 hours long and I have listened to almost 11 of those hours; I think that's enough to decide that I am not interested in finishing the book. There is a great deal of exposition in the first section of the book to set the stage for a final section-ending burst of activity. Unfortunately, after that brief bit of action the next section reverts immediately to more exposition as we are given the background to set us up for another story involving a different main character. I found my attention wandering and didn't even feel motivated enough to track down a hardcopy of the story so that I could peek at the ending.
Iain Pears' work is admired by a lot of people, I think it may just not be my style.
Tom Epperson's book is well-written and interesting, but unrelentingly bleak. I found myself permanently stalled about half-way through it, unwilling...moreTom Epperson's book is well-written and interesting, but unrelentingly bleak. I found myself permanently stalled about half-way through it, unwilling to read about the pain and disaster that were obviously ahead for most - if not all - of the characters. (less)
The Judgement of Strangers is the second book in Andrew Taylor's Roth Trilogy, a series of mysteries that works its way backward through the twentieth...moreThe Judgement of Strangers is the second book in Andrew Taylor's Roth Trilogy, a series of mysteries that works its way backward through the twentieth century. The entire trilogy is an interesting exploration of the roots of crime and "evil" and the impact that our actions can have on the people around us, even when we aren't aware of it.
Judgement is an interesting mystery, but I found it most enjoyable in the descriptions of the characters living in the village of Roth. David Byfield, who also appears in the first book, The Four Last Things, provides the main point of view for the second and is a complex and "real" character in that it is impossible to completely like or dislike him. David straddles the "gray" area that most of us do: his intentions are good, but he is often tripped up by his faults and inadequacies. In addition, he is a product of his upbringing - the mid-twentieth century - and that is reflected in his opinions and actions, some of which aren't very likeable by today's standards.
The second book in a trilogy is often problematic because the reader knows that the definitive beginning and ending take place in other books. In my opinion, if there is a fault to be found with Judgement it is that it stands too well on its own and doesn't add enough information to the overall story Taylor has begun. That is a minor quibble, however and Judgement is definitely a worthwhile read. (less)
Edmund Whitty, correspondent for the Victorian-era newspaper The Falcon, has fallen on hard times. Thanks to a mole in his office, all his story ideas...moreEdmund Whitty, correspondent for the Victorian-era newspaper The Falcon, has fallen on hard times. Thanks to a mole in his office, all his story ideas are being stolen out from under him, many ending up published by his arch-rival, the journalist Fraser of Dodd's. This inability to sell a story has left Mr. Whitty in rather desperate straits and thus in no position to turn down an offer from a mysterious American gentleman he meets in a public bath.
This meeting is just the start of Whitty's adventures, which twist and turn through many of the less picturesque aspects of Victorian England, including ratting dens, "model" 19th century prisons, an assortment of drinking establishments and the simultaneous rise of the art of photography and the business of pornography.
Strangely enough, as the book came to an end I was reminded very strongly of the 1946 Bogart/Bacall movie The Big Sleep. Like White Stone Day it is full of terrific atmosphere, witty dialogue, and endless action. Also like Gray's book, the plot of The Big Sleep manages to be confusing even to someone paying close attention. (In fact, there is a story that when Chandler - author of The Big Sleep - was asked to explain who had killed the chauffeur in his story he responded that he had no idea). In both cases however, the plot is incidental to the enjoyment of the story and the occasional inconsistency or unanswered question is made almost irrelevant by the enjoyment of the story as a whole.(less)
Sometimes a book comes along that seemingly has all the elements of an instant favorite, in the case of The Kingdom of Ohio the elements are: time-tra...moreSometimes a book comes along that seemingly has all the elements of an instant favorite, in the case of The Kingdom of Ohio the elements are: time-travel, Victorian-era New York City, a very sweet romance and - at least for me - footnotes. (I am strangely in love with fiction books that use footnotes. Terry Pratchett is my hero).
Nevertheless, despite the presence of some very fine footnotes and the author's ability to describe turn of the century NYC in an enjoyably tangible way, this book failed to really hit home with me. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I would have thought. I think what dropped the book from 4 to 3 stars in my view was the strictly functional nature of the "present day" storyline. While the historical time frame is fleshed out and feels real in many ways, events in the present are narrated in a very perfunctory fashion and it felt as if the historical story were a painting set in the unfinished wood frame of the present day events.
Even so, I have Matthew Flaming on my list of authors to watch and I plan to keep an eye out for his next book. (less)
I had to add a new shelf just for this book: "noir". And when I think about it, there doesn't seem to be a setting as perfect for a noir mystery than...moreI had to add a new shelf just for this book: "noir". And when I think about it, there doesn't seem to be a setting as perfect for a noir mystery than Berlin in the 1930's. It doesn't even need any embellishment by the author to create the atmosphere of unreality, violence and decay. Or as the dictionary says: "a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings". Well, I don't know that they come much bleaker than Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party. Even reading about it can put a knot in your stomach as the little things - precursors to Germany's military aggression and "final solution" - appear in the novel.
Hannah Vogel is a single woman in 1931 Berlin. A firm Socialist, she is appalled at the power she sees accumulating around the Nazis, but still believes that there is a limit to what they can eventually control and that Germany will come to it's senses and that they will eventually be voted out of power. At least she feels that way at the beginning of the novel, by the end, although she has no real idea how far things will go, she has admitted to herself that they are out of control and she is no longer certain how they will end.
While A Trace of Smoke remains Hannah's search to find out what happened to her murdered brother, the book is fascinating and hard to put down. However, about half-way through the picture broadens and national politics come into play - potentially history changing politics - and that is where my interest began to wane. I'm not much for "international spy thrillers" or other books that use the entire world as their playing field, I'm more interested in ordinary people and their lives, but in this case it was an even more jarring change than it would have been in another book. 1930's Berlin was a very personal place, full of personal fears that could not be discussed safely and personal secrets that could not be discussed at all. Everyone's lives shrank as their fear grew. When Cantrell's focus began to broaden to include events on a larger scale, it broke my immersion into the time period and I began to feel distanced and my attention wandered. After all, we know how things turned out for Berlin and the Nazi's on a larger scale - there is no suspense involved.
That said, A Trace of Smoke is Rebecca Cantrell's first novel and I enjoyed it enough that I will pick up her second.(less)
Caleb Carr was commissioned by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write a book that could be considered the official "further adventures of Sherl...moreCaleb Carr was commissioned by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write a book that could be considered the official "further adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and so he set out to recreate Conan Doyle's original style in all its Victorian glory. And I think that for the most part Carr has succeeded: the language, the sentence structure, and the general "feel" of the original stories are faithfully recreated in Carr's book, and although he can't resist adding a few more gory details than Victorian sensibilities would have allowed, all of the violent events take place elsewhere and are then described to the reader in elegant Victorian prose. Faithfully to the original style, both Holmes and Watson spend a great deal of time talking, explaining to the reader everything that has been happening "off stage", and analyzing it for clues. The dialogue is a real pleasure, especially when read in Simon Prebble's lovely English accent.
So why only two stars? In my opinion, while The Italian Secretary is a beautiful example of the Victorian style, it lacks any real substance. The mystery is thin and rather abruptly solved, not by Holmes' famous intellect, but by a series of odd coincidences that provide all the information anyone would need to piece things together. In fact, I was left wondering why it had ever been a mystery requiring Holmes' involvement in the first place.
In the end I concluded that the plot was so uninteresting that if I had picked up The Italian Secretary in traditional format the beauty of the dialogue would have worn off quickly and I wouldn't have bothered to finish it. As it is, it was only Simon Prebble's narration that kept me listening until the end.
I have to give up on this audiobook because the narrator is driving me crazy: he stumbles over his words and his monotone voice is putting me to sleep...moreI have to give up on this audiobook because the narrator is driving me crazy: he stumbles over his words and his monotone voice is putting me to sleep.
Moved to "To Read" shelf for traditional format.(less)
Claire Donovan is working on her dissertation and needs to go to Venice but can't afford the trip. Gwen Fy is a rich teenager in need of an adult to d...moreClaire Donovan is working on her dissertation and needs to go to Venice but can't afford the trip. Gwen Fy is a rich teenager in need of an adult to deliver her safely to her father in Europe. Claire is a caricature of the writer who never gets out of her pajamas, while Gwen is the unhappy little rich girl who likes to cause trouble. As you might expect, their mutual problems bring them together on a trip to Italy, and after a rough beginning they predictably begin to bond. Claire is in Venice to research Alessandra Rossetti,a 17th century Venetian courtesan who became involved in political espionage via one of her lovers. A great deal is unknown about Alessandra's part in what is later called "The Spanish Conspiracy", and Claire hopes to uncover more information.
Once in Venice they meet two extremely handsome Italian men of appropriate ages, as well as an English scholar who is also interested in Alessandra. Fortunately for Claire, once she's out of her pajamas she is apparently extremely attractive in a cliched take-your-glasses-off-and-be-beautiful kind of way. Claire's attempts to research Alessandra Rossetti are interspersed with chapters written from Alessandra's point of view which explain exactly how she did come to be involved in the Spanish Conspiracy. Neither narrative is very compelling: Alessandra's story starts off well but she never becomes "real" to the reader, while Claire fares slightly better, but is plagued with silly coincidences and melodramatic stock characters like The Beautiful but Jealous Italian Girlfriend and The Disapproving Mother.
I normally enjoy stories about the piecing together of historical evidence to discover the truth, but in this case Claire makes some intuitive leaps that left me wondering "how did she come to that conclusion based on the information available?" Overall, the Rossetti Letter is a nice "beach book" or something to read when you have a cold and don't want to think too much.
When I was a kid reading a good book meant immersing myself in the story so deeply that often coming back to the "real world" was like waking up from...moreWhen I was a kid reading a good book meant immersing myself in the story so deeply that often coming back to the "real world" was like waking up from a dream. That rarely happens now that I'm an adult, there's a part of my brain that always remains distant from the story and never really stops thinking about things like groceries and whether the dog needs a bath. I miss that feeling of really losing myself in a book and am always on the lookout for a book that can help me recreate it. I am happy to say that F.G. Cottam's The House of Lost Souls is that kind of a book.
I find myself wanting to use the word "atmosphere" to describe Cottam's book. Many times while reading I'll find myself skimming over the descriptions because they never stop being words on a page, but Cottam can describe the way the afternoon light slants in through a window, or the sound of a neighbor's stereo, in a way that you can see - and almost feel - the reality of the scene. Not only does this give his characters and story more depth, but it makes the scary parts much, much scarier. I found myself haunted by some of the scary images in Cottam's book the way I hadn't been since I first read The Shining. And not necessarily even the climactic scenes, in fact one of the scariest moments for me was when Paul Seaton notices a shopkeeper looking at him through a store window. Paul is across the street in a phone booth, the details are indistinct and they don't exchange a word, but the scene is terrifying.
The only problem I had with House of Lost Souls was that when I was done reading it I couldn't settle down to read anything else. Nothing else was as well written, as atmospheric and most of all as frightening as Cottam's book. In the end the only way I could solve the problem was by going to bookdepository.com and ordering both his other books. I may still be dissatisfied with other books, but at least that gives me something to look forward to.(less)
On her first day at boarding school Charlotte Makepeace is shown to the room she will be sharing with four other girls. The room has five black iron b...moreOn her first day at boarding school Charlotte Makepeace is shown to the room she will be sharing with four other girls. The room has five black iron bedsteads, all identical except for the one Charlotte chooses, which isn't on casters like the others, but has "little wheels with ornamented spokes".
After an ordinary, if stressful, first day Charlotte falls asleep in her iron bedstead, but awakens in what seems to be a different world. Somehow in the night she has changed places with Clare Moby, a student at the same school forty years before. Sleeping in the iron bed has somehow sent her back in time. For a few weeks Charlotte and Clare trade places on a nightly basis, leaving notes for each other as they alternate spending their days in 1918 and 1958. Then a mistake in timing leaves Charlotte seemingly trapped in 1918. Will she have to live the rest of her life there? Is that, in fact, something that she's already done?
This may be a book written for children, but it is not a "childish" book. I wish I had found this book when I was a kid because I'm quite certain it would have turned into one of my favorites. (less)
Edmund Whitty is a journalist in Victorian London. Not just any journalist however, for "among his colleagues, with the possible exception of Mr. Hick...moreEdmund Whitty is a journalist in Victorian London. Not just any journalist however, for "among his colleagues, with the possible exception of Mr. Hicks the contrarian (who, it is said, keeps beetles in his pockets), Whitty is the most despised correspondent in London." In addition to covering public hangings, sex scandals in girl's schools, and other newsworthy items, Whitty recently created a sensation by dubbing London's latest killer of prostitutes "Chokee Bill". Since that moment of glory, however, Whitty has been floundering in a sea of gin, opium, wine, and any other substance he can get his hands on. He is also in debt to the owner of a local rat fighting pit, and it has reached the point where knees may be broken if he can't begin making payments soon.
Ostensibly The Fiend in Human is the story of Whitty's unraveling of the truth about Chokee Bill, with interesting interplay between the forces of journalism, public opinion, and London's Metropolitan Police force in the person of one Inspector Salmon. I say "ostensibly" because it is really a story of Victorian London, and in my opinion the mystery plot takes second place to the city and its inhabitants, which Mr. Gray renders almost tangible in his descriptions.
As just a quick example, Mr. Gray writes excellent character sketches and Inspector Salmon is described as "tall and thin, like a whipping-post in chin-whiskers and top hat", while Mr. Whitty's disapproving landlady "entirely fills the entry as she glares at him, wearing an expression calculated beforehand to inspire miscellaneous guilt."
I would compare The Fiend in Human to Charles Palliser's The Quincunx in terms of writing style. Palliser's book has a more intricate plot, but then The Quincunx is 800 pages long, compared to The Fiend's 352 pages. In my opinion the joy of reading either book is in the writing itself, and the plot takes a backseat to the wonderful things that the author can do with words. Yes, there are a few small plot holes in The Fiend but I was having so much fun reading it that I really didn't care. (less)
I'm glad that I read this in audiobook format. Not only is Simon Vance a wonderful narrator but his voice is perfect for historical fiction. Also, I k...moreI'm glad that I read this in audiobook format. Not only is Simon Vance a wonderful narrator but his voice is perfect for historical fiction. Also, I know my weaknesses and at several tense points in the story I would have been very tempted to "peek" at the end if I were reading a traditional book. Ultimately that would have spoiled a lot of my enjoyment of the book because Bayard leaves the events of his story open to (at least) three different interpretations by the reader, adding layers of possible meaning to the actions of the characters right up until the end.